No. 11 Kentucky blocks Boise State out of undefeated ranks

Wildcats' height advantage too much for Broncos to handle in Lexington.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comDecember 11, 2013 

— Even if you try to brace for it, when something big and full of momentum comes at you, it probably will still hurt.

Kentucky, with its starting five of players 6-foot-6 or taller, used its height to its advantage Tuesday against Boise State in a 70-55 win at Rupp Arena.

The No. 11 Wildcats, coming off a loss to Baylor in their previous game four days earlier, handed the Broncos their first loss of the season with a dominant inside effort, outrebounding Boise State 43-27 and blocking 10 shots.

“We can do all the right things and try to battle, but they’re just so physically imposing, and I thought they were really, really dialed in — and I knew they would be,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said.

Kentucky (8-2) was able to defend the strong-shooting Broncos (8-1) closely on the perimeter, and with height and talent in the middle made just about any shot a tough one.

Seven-foot sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein had nine blocks, doing his part in holding Boise State to 22-of-69 shooting (31.9 percent).

“That’s tough to simulate,” said senior forward Ryan Watkins, the Broncos’ tallest player at 6-9.

Down 10 at the half, the Broncos kept pace with the Wildcats early after halftime, getting within seven at 48-41 with 13:52 to play on a pair of Anthony Drmic free throws. They were the Broncos’ first free-throw attempts of the game, and they finished 6-of-6 on the night. They came in averaging 23 made free throws per game.

But the Broncos went into a deep freeze at the wrong time, missing eight straight before Derrick Marks’ layup with 9:53 to go made it 56-43.

Kentucky coach John Calipari praised the way his team handled the Broncos’ offense, which came in No. 2 in the nation in scoring with 91.9 points per game.

“Let me say this — that team is as hard to guard as anybody you’ll play,” Calipari said.

The Broncos had only five assists Tuesday, their fewest since Feb. 4, 2006, and hit just 22.9 percent of their shots from the field in the second half (8-of-35). The Broncos’ shooting percentage of 31.9 was their worst since Feb. 4, 2012, when they shot 31.1 percent against New Mexico.

The Broncos hit 5-of-17 3-pointers Tuesday, unable to find many open looks as the Wildcats’ long guards prevented kickouts when the Broncos drove.

“We got away from what has made us good, just enough to where they were able to capitalize on it,” Rice said.

Boise State trailed by as much 62-43 with 8:36 to go, before scoring eight straight points. But Andrew Harrison hit a jumper on the other end while being fouled, and Julius Randle dunked home his miss to go up 15.

The Broncos forced 19 turnovers to keep within arm’s reach most of the game.

“If we hit a few more shots, had a few more rebounds, we would’ve been right there,” Rice said. “You have to play an A-plus game to win here, and we didn’t, but we competed.”

Drmic led the Broncos with 18 points, while Marks added 14. Watkins had six points and eight rebounds (seven offensive). James Young led Kentucky with 21 points and added nine rebounds, while Randle had 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Though the Broncos’ unbeaten run came to an end, the disappointment won’t linger long as they take on 7-0 Saint Mary’s at Taco Bell Arena on Saturday.

“It’s a bitter taste, but you’ve got to move on and we have another big one Saturday,” Drmic said.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420,Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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